How the Red Thread Uses Cognitive Dissonance
One of the toughest questions for any message maker is simple but big: how do you get someone to actually do something different? How do you create change? Even when we can’t imagine wanting a goal more or when we know the stakes are incredibly high, we’ve all been in situations where we still didn’t act.
Weight loss is a great example of this kind of situation, something that many people want but not everyone is able to succeed at. Tamsen was a Weight Watchers coach for 13 years, and she noticed an important commonality among those who made the tough changes necessary to lose weight and keep it off. They had an inconsistent view of their inside and outside. Who they saw in the mirror wasn’t the person they knew they were on the inside.
Whenever there are two opposing truths that we believe to be true, we can’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance for long. In the face of this untenable tension, we’ll do one of two things: change the core fundamental belief about ourselves or change the core fundamental belief about how we see the world. As message makers, if we can create that tension then we can create change.
The Red Thread is structured to create this tension. It sets up three concepts that can be put in conflict: what do you want (Goal), what is the real problem you have to solve (Problem), and what is the fundamental truth that your audience believes about themselves that makes the Goal and Problem inconsistent with that belief? So when you’ve identified the Problem, the next step is to ask: why would that bother me so much? If you can create that tension between the Goal and the Problem for your audience, you can create the Change that you’re after.
- Cognitive Dissonance in Simply Psychology
- The Red Thread Worksheet
- Subscribe to Find the Red Thread on YouTube
– One of the enduring questions of just about anything related to business or in life is how do you get someone to actually do something different? We go through a lot of different options there. We said well maybe if we just loved our goals more or maybe ourselves more, that would be enough. Sometimes that’s true. And then there’s approaches like challenger or gap selling where we say well if we just make the problem bad enough and the stakes high enough, that’ll prompt us to change.
And yet, I think we’ve all been in situations where we couldn’t imagine wanting a goal more, or where we knew the stakes were super, super high. And yet, we still didn’t act. Why is that? And what can we do different? Well that’s what we’re talking about this week. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com and this is Find the Red Thread.
One of the situations where people have a goal they really, really want and the stakes of not getting it are really, really high, is weight loss. You might be wondering why am I talking about that. Well, that’s because I have maintained a 50-pound weight loss for 19 years and two children. And in addition to that, for 13 years, while I was working my full-time jobs in brand and messaging, I was a Weight Watchers leader, I was helping other people lose weight the way that I had. And I bring this up because there was one quality that I saw more consistently in the people who were successful that gives us a clue, I think, to how we can create change in either ourselves or other people.
So what was this quality that helped people be successful rather than struggle? Well the thing that I noticed was this: that the people who were most successful had inconsistent views of their inside and outside. Here’s what I mean: that who they saw themselves as on the inside, capable, valuable, smart, funny, whatever it might’ve been, they saw that as inconsistent with who they saw themselves as in the mirror. So the inside them and the outside them didn’t match. And it was that tension of inside versus outside that was consistently the thing that I saw drive people to do the very hard work of changing behaviors permanently.
In contrast, the people who struggle were the people where that wasn’t inconsistent. Either they believed that who they looked like or what they looked like on the outside was in fact who they were. They believed that they were overweight by genetics or this is just the way they’re meant to be or maybe they did have some issues of self love or whatever. But that outside and their inside were, if they weren’t consistent, they were at least weren’t opposed.
Why would this inconsistency versus consistency matter? Well it’s for something that’s true across all humans and all situations, and it’s this: that whenever there are two things that we believe to be true, when they’re in conflict with each other, it is one mental gap that we can’t leave open. We can’t let that situation stand, it creates an untenable tension in our minds. For the science geeks out there, it is technically cognitive dissonance, it’s the inability to hold two opposing truths in our mind at the same time. And that’s why for people who are overweight, who saw their outside is not matching their inside, it was the same thing, that was cognitive dissonance.
In the face of that untenable tension, we will absolutely do one of two things. We will change that core fundamental belief about ourselves, not always that likely, or we will change the core fundamental belief about how we see the world. So for folks that were consistently more successful, for instance, they already saw themselves as valuable, smart, funny, whatever it might have been, but it helped them start to see that weight loss and their weight was a product of something else, it was a product perhaps of planning or behaviors or choices. And once they were forced to reexamine the real problem, then they could identify something that they could actually solve and actually work with. As opposed to the people who didn’t have that inconsistency who thought, “well maybe I’m just supposed to be that way,” there was none of that tension that drove them to do something different.
Why does this matter for us as message makers or change makers? Well because that tension is something we can consciously create for people. We can consciously create this situation where those two truths battle. And when two truths fight, only one lives to tell the tale.
And this is why I’ve broken down the Red Thread the way that I have, because it sets up three different possible ideas, concepts, that can be put in conflict. The first is what is it that you want, what is the thing that you’re trying to get? That’s the Goal. The second thing is what’s the real thing, what’s the real problem you have to solve, that’s the Problem. And the third concept and honestly, this is the most important, is what is the fundamental truth about you, yourself, your organization, or if you’re talking to clients and customers, they believe that themselves, that makes the other two, the Goal and the Problem, absolutely impossible, inconsistent, with that fundamental belief.
What can you do to create that? Well, keep asking those questions, and one of my favorite ones is once you’ve identified the real Problem for yourself or for somebody else, ask, “Why would that bother me so much, why do I have to solve that problem?” So for this I’ll use an example from my own life and that is I can’t stand mental gaps, I can’t stand it when somebody sees something that they want like one of those Weight Watchers saw this other version of themselves and they just couldn’t figure out how to make those two things match, that’s a mental gap. But the reason why that bothers me so much is because of a fundamental belief I have and that is that people already have all the tools they need, they just need to know how to use them. So it’s untenable for me for those two things to be in existence when I know there’s a way for someone to solve it. And that drives the Change. It drives me to find ways to help people think about their world, their life, themselves, differently. And that’s really the power of the Red Thread, it can make any of you be able to create that same kind of untenable tension that creates the change that you’re looking for.
So the next time you are trying to figure out, “Why can’t I figure out the next step or how do I get somebody moving into a direction?”, look for that tension, that tension between a problem and that fundamental belief that they have about themselves, and keep working until you can find a way where those two things are impossible to coexist together.
The way I like to think about this, and this is what I’ll leave you with, is that when there’s a goal that you can’t imagine living without, the answer doesn’t lie in trying to figure out how to love that goal more or even how to make the stakes of the problem higher. The answer instead lies in how can I, what is it about me, that can make me think differently about that problem, make that problem impossible to you. So it isn’t that we don’t love our goals enough, it’s that we haven’t yet found the reason to hate the problem more. So keep looking for that. You will find it and when you do, your brain will automatically work to close that gap and get you moving when you haven’t been before.
To help you with that process, go to findyourredthread.com and download the Red Thread worksheet. Also if you’re enjoying this whether you listen or watch, subscribe on YouTube, give us a rating and a comment in iTunes, and otherwise let me know what else you wanna know more about. I would love to answer your questions here on a future episode of Find the Red Thread.